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The MCU Movie You Probably Didn't Know Was Inspired By Spirited Away

It can sometimes feel strange to call any movie made past the 20th century a "classic," but if any film deserves that title, it's none other than the 2001 Hayao Miyzaki masterpiece, "Spirited Away." The film tells the enchanting story of Chihiro, a young girl who must face her fears and fight through numerous obstacles in a mysterious bath house to break a spell put on her parents that transformed them into pigs. A box office record-breaker in Japan, the film also saw success in the United States, where it remains the only foreign and beautifully hand-drawn animated film to win the best animated feature award at the Oscars (via The Hollywood Reporter). Even today, decades after its release, enthusiasm for "Spirited Away" has only grown bigger and bigger: When it was rereleased in 2019, the film broke Japanese box office records once again (via IndieWire).

Named the second-best film of the 21st century by the New York Times, "Spirited Away" was more than a one-and-done positively received movie. Rather, it has arguably become the most influential modern animated film to be released, with filmmakers from the likes of Pixar (via South China Morning Post) and even Steven Spielberg (via Comic Book) singing the praises of the Miyzaki gem and having it influence their work. 

But while the creators of whimsical, more conventional family entertainment would unsurprisingly connect to "Spirited Away," it turns out that a blockbuster entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe also took influence from the film.

Spirited Away helped Eternals find its humanity

In an interview on Polygon with "Eternals" screenwriters Kaz and Ryan Firpo, the cousins admit that the love that they and director Chloé Zhao all share for "Spirited Away" was a big influence on nailing down on the complex themes that the 2021 Marvel Cinematic Universe film presented. Indeed, speaking of Zhao, Kaz said, "Chloé is a fantastic human filmmaker that makes spiritual dramas, and at the same time, she's a huge nerd. And that's sort of the secret sauce of Chloé."

To further explore the conflicting thematic elements of "Eternals," the writing team chose to focus on Sersi (Gemma Chan) and Ikaris (Richard Madden) from early on. To the Firpo's, having the film focus on them offered a way of exploring the thematic conflict of love versus duty, with each character in "Eternals" representing a different ideal. "It's really a movie that's about Humanity with a capital H," Kaz says. "Are we worthy of this gift that we've been given of both this planet and life? Then for these eternal, immortal space gods to grapple with that too, that was something that no movie, I don't think, has ever had the chance to kind of do." 

Director and co-writer Chloe Zhao herself was pleased with the creative process that Marvel allowed her on "Eternals." The Oscar-winning director hoped to strike a balance with her film that had yet to be seen in an MCU film up to that point, telling Collider that her intent with the film was always to balance a huge, epic scope with a deeply personal story — which, indeed, is exactly the quality that viewers continue to love about "Spirited Away," all these years later.